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Reading Round-up 2013: week 5

cover image for The Treasure Map of BoysThe Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart

It’s junior year and Ruby and her friends are living in the land of NoBoyfriend.  Nora and Megan have plans to rectify the situation, but Ruby is determined to follow her shrink’s advice and stay focused on herself for a while.  This means remaining friends only with Noel, staying the course at her internship, not giving her fellow Tate students anything to gossip about, and putting on the best bake sale ever by convincing boys to make treats as well.

Can she do it?*  Either way, there is sure to be stress, hilarity, tears, and laughter.

Lockhart’s third Ruby book failed to charm me in quite the same way the previous two books did, but it’s still a breezy and entertaining read.  As always, Lockhart does a good job of presenting us with a Ruby that is immature but not obnoxious.**  Ruby is clearly struggling to make sense of the tensions between the feminism she believes in and the reality of both her hormones and the pressures of the culture she is a part of.  While Ruby’s views on sexism often lack sophistication, they are incredibly believable and Lockhart deftly steers clear of setting up any strawfeminists – or caricatures of chauvinism - to be knocked down.  Ruby’s problems are complex and real, as are the people around her.

cover image for IndaInda by Sherwood Smith

Indevan-Dal Algara-Vayir has always had a talent for strategy, in the same way that other people excel in music or math.  Growing up in a martial culture this serves him well and, along with his basic decency, makes him a natural leader and well-liked among the boys – and girls – that he trains with at home, the place he will one day defend for his older brother.  But when Inda and other second sons like him are ordered to capital to train at the King’s Military Academy, Inda discovers that while strategy comes easily to him, he still has much to learn about politics and intrigue.

I don’t know if it was the mood I was in or the story and writing itself, but I was so completely sucked in while reading this.  A decade ago, I likely would not have been, and would have been frustrated with the fact that we were following mostly the boys around, and not so much the girls. This didn’t bother me as much reading Inda, and I think it’s because I have had more luck recently finding women centered fantasy and science fiction.  After all, ten years ago, I had not read Tamora Pierce,** Elizabeth Bear, Kate Elliot, or P. C. Hodgell.  Now that I have, and now that I have better resources for finding similar books, each time I run into yet another boy-focused fantasy adventure, I’m more likely to be able to enjoy it for what it is than once again feel shut out.  Just as long as the story and world-building still acknowledge that women exist and are interesting and capable, which Smith does in spades, of course.

That said, I now totally want lots of stories about girls training to be fighters together.

cover image for Navigating EarlyNavigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

At age 13 Jack, born and raised in Kansas, is sent to a boarding school on the Maine coast by his recently widowed father, a WWII veteran.  Confused and bereft, Jack has difficulty fitting in and making friends.  Until he meets Early Auden, a fellow student with Asperger’s decades before the term came into use.  As outcasts often do, Early and Jack establish a rocky but deep friendship; a bond that leads to the two boys taking off for a trip in the woods in search of a bear, a lost brother, and the story of Pi.

Ten or twenty years ago I would have thought this was a wonderful, touching, and compassionate book.  But a decade or so ago I had not yet read a Mango-Shaped Space, Anything But Typical, Tangerine, or a handful of of other rare but powerful books that – gasp! – tell such stories from the perspective of the person who is not considered neurotypical (or otherwise deviates from the norm).  The current me wants to know why we must learn about Early though Jack’s eyes – rather than the other way around.  It’s not that there isn’t still a place for friendship stories told through the perspective of neurotypical boys like Jack – it’s more that the focus on Early as a cipher and his presentation as an almost otherwordly companion perpetuates the idea that Early is not fully human, even as the author clearly wishes to dispel such myths.  It is, in many ways, a beautifully written book.  It’s just so old school with respect to neurology and behavior (above and beyond what is needed to establish a sense of place) that I’m not able to recommend it without reservations.

(Also, omg that title: Navigating Early, really? Early Auden is a thing to be navigated? ?????)

cover image for The CallingThe Calling by Kelley Armstrong

The further adventures of Maya and her friends.  Suffers from the same problem as the middle book in her first ya series: too much running around, not enough actually happening.  Not painful to read, but mostly worth it only so that the final book will make sense.

yay! for the First Nations protagonist though.  (although, I cannot say for certain if Maya is realistic – or the traditions and beliefs

accurately portrayed)

cover image for Shards of HonorShards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Why yes, this is my first time reading Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga.  And yes, I realize that this makes me a freak and not a Real Science Fiction Fan.  Now that we have that out of the way…

Cordelia Naismith is a scientist and starship Captain whose Betan exploratory expedition has been ambushed by Barrayarian forces while on a planet-side mission. As she comes to discover later, the attack was actually part of a mutiny attempt against Captain Lord Vorkosigan, theBarrayarian who captures her and marches her an injured Betan crewman back to his own Barrayarian base camp.

There is some serious analysis begging to be done here, what with Cordelia and Aral falling in love while she’s technically being imprisoned by him, but a large part of what makes this story work – and (I imagine) the author so beloved – is that Bujold makes it clear that the romance is based on growing mutual admiration and respect and manages to have this all happen without Cordelia ever compromising her own sense of honor or duty. Once the mutiny is taken care of, Cordelia chooses going home and enlisting in her own people’s war effort over marrying Lord Vorkosigan.  The fact that Cordelia doesn’t magically lose all ties to her former self once she falls in love is what makes her human and big part of what makes Shards of Honor fun rather than a wall-banger.****  While the intrigue, cleverness, and unwillingness to deny the realities of politics and war are what elevate the novel from a merely comforting read to an interesting and entertaining one.

It’s one of those novels that you almost want to argue isn’t very deep at all – it doesn’t feel challenging or nihlistic or neat enough, and it’s certainly way too much fun - until you realize that calling it lighthearted denies the complexity that Bujold manages to weave into the plot and relationships.  It’s a wonderful book precisely because it is so messy and flawed and imperfect at times, just as real people are.

*spoilers: no, no, no, and yes respectively – did you ever think otherwise

** ymmv. I don’t find Ruby annoying, I find her incredibly sympathetic, but then we share a similar background and I willingly work with teens on a regular basis.  So.

***I may be off by about a year.  I began working at the bookstore in late 2002 and would have began reading Pierce within about two years of that point.

second cover image for Shards of Honor**** Unfortunately, the copy I borrowed from the library had this cover, and since I am a very visual thinker, I kept picturing everyone as the awkward cast of characters in that anatomically unlikely image. Which led to me having a hard time imagining anyone falling in love with the captain.  Other than that, however, it was an fun book.


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Jenny Kristine

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